The waiting is almost over as the British Superbike Championship (BSB) heads to Brands Hatch for the eagerly anticipated season opener this weekend.
A little over six months have passed since HM Plant Honda's Ryuichi Kiyonari lifted his third BSB title last year, and now 38 riders representing eight countries are ready to battle it out for the 2011 crown.
The championship begins with a trip to Kent circuit Brands Hatch with a whole host of riders expected to be fighting for the top step of the podium. This year the series will be contested over 12 meetings (26 Races), including three trips to Brands Hatch and a round at the newly built Snetterton 300 circuit. The Showdown feature, which sees the top six riders challenge for the title for the final three rounds, remains after it's successful debut last season.
For the first time since 2007 the defending champion will line up on the grid hoping to keep a hold of his title, as Kiyonari extends his stay with HM Plant Honda. With three titles already to his name, the Japanese rider will be among the favourites for another championship success after a strong pre-season.
He said: “We have tried very hard over the winter to improve as we want to win again. It is going to be important to be winning races at every round. There is a lot of pressure before Brands Hatch for everyone because nobody knows who is going to be fast. There is pressure on me because I am champion, but after the first race I think we can relax a little because there is so much that is unknown before we start racing.”
However, Kiyonari will face strong competition from a number of riders none more so then his new team mate Shane Byrne, who returns to the series after two years in the World Superbike Championship. The Kent rider struggled to make his mark on the world scene and is keen to rejuvenate his career by adding a third BSB title to his superbike achievements. Shakey, a two-time British champion, last won the championship in 2008 riding for Airwaves Ducati and the 34-year-old is looking forward to returning to his home circuit.
He said: “It's been a long winter but I am really ready to race now. The Brands Hatch weekend is going to be massive. It is a track I have missed dearly since the last time I raced in BSB back in 2008. To be honest rolling down Paddock Hill Bend on the HM Plant Honda on Good Friday will be enough to put a smile on my face from the start. I always seem to get lots of local support there and I want to do a good job on Easter Monday for the fans as well as myself and the team. The talking stops at Brands Hatch; it is then all about the racing.”
Another rider hoping to make an impact this year is Moto GP star John Hopkins, who joins Samsung Crescent Racing for his debut season in the series. The American will partner reigning Superstock champion Jon Kirkham at Jack Valentine's team.
Hopkins said: “I am going out to give it my best and nothing less. I want results and I know that there will always be expectations because of my history, but at the end of the day I am one hundred percent focused on the job in hand and doing everything I can to give myself and the team the results they deserve.”
Tommy Hill was desperately unlucky not to clinch the championship last season with Crescent Suzuki, and he will be hoping to go one better this year after moving to Swan Honda. Hill, who led the series for large parts only to be beaten in the Showdown, will line up alongside Michael Laverty.
Hill said: “I just want to get to Brands Hatch. We set a new lap record at Cartagena and we felt confident after those tests. Once we have the first day on Good Friday to blow the cobwebs away we just need to be consistent and score some good points. That was the approach I had last season and I came away with a first and second place plus the championship lead.”
Australian Josh Brookes riding for Relentless Suzuki by TAS and Kawasaki duo of Stuart Easton and Simon Andrews will be expected to be fighting towards the sharp end in 2011. Fans Favourites Chris Walker and Michael Rutter are proven race winners in the series and will provide entertainment.
History will be made this season, with Jenny Tinmouth becoming the first woman to race in the championship on board her Splitlath Motorsport Aprilia.
2011 MCE Insurance British Superbike Championship – Entry List
1: Ryuichi Kiyonari (Japan) HM Plant Honda
2: Josh Brookes (Australia) Relentless Suzuki by TAS
3: Stuart Easton (Hawick) MSS Colchester Kawasaki
4: Dan Linfoot (Wetherby) Sorrymate.com Honda
5: Ian Lowry (Moira) Buildbase BMW
6: Michael Rutter (Brierley Hill) Rapid Solicitors-Bathams Ducati
7: Michael Laverty (Toomebridge) Swan Yamaha
8: John Laverty (Toombridge) Buildbase BMW
9: Chris Walker (Nottingham) PR1MO Racing Kawasaki
10: Jon Kirkham (Derby) Samsung Crescent Racing – Suzuki
12: Josh Day (Cirencester) AIR Racing Kawasaki (EVO)
17: Simon Andrews (Evesham) PR Racing Kawasaki (EVO)
19: Steve Brogan (Liverpool) Jentin Honda
20: Tom Tunstall (Huddersfield) Doodson Honda (EVO)
21: John Hopkins (USA) Samsung Crescent Racing – Suzuki
22: Alex Lowes (Lincoln) Team WFR Honda (EVO)
24: Patric Muff (Switzerland) Tyco Honda (EVO)
25: Dennis Hobbs (Guisborough) Hobbs Racing BMW (EVO)
27: James Westmoreland (Hull) Motorpoint Yamaha
33: Tommy Hill (Lingfield) Swan Yamaha
37: James Hillier (Ringwood) Bournemouth Kawasaki (EVO)
40: Martin Jessopp (Yeovil) Rapid Solicitors-Bathams Ducati
45: Glen Richards (Australia) Team WFR Honda (EVO)
46: Tommy Bridewell (Devizes) Tyco Honda
55: Dan Kneen (Bradden) Marks Bloom Kawasaki (EVO)
56: Hudson Kennaugh (South Africa) Splitlath Motorsport Aprilia
60: Peter Hickman (Louth) Tyco Honda
64: Aaron Zanotti (Loughborough) AZR – BMW (EVO)
65: Loris Baz (France) Motorpoint Yamaha
67: Shane Byrne (Sittingbourne) HM Plant Honda
75: Craig Fitzpatrick (Derby) Close Print Finance Honda (EVO)
77: Barry Burrell (Bishop Auckland) Buildbase BMW (EVO)
78: Mateo Mossa (Italy) 777 Motorsport Suzuki (EVO)
79: Nick Medd (York) Boss D&B BMW
81: Graeme Gowland (Hexham) Team WFR Honda (EVO)
88: Scott Smart (Maidstone) Motorapido Ducati (EVO)
100: Jenny Tinmouth (Ellesmere Port) Splitlath Motorsport Aprilia
101: Gary Mason (Litchfield) MSS Colchester Kawasaki
2011 British Superbike Championship Schedule
Round 1: Brands Hatch Indy: April 22-25
Round 2: Oulton Park: April 30-May 2
Round 3: Croft: May 13-15
Round 4: Thruxton: May 28-30
Round 5: Knockhill: June 17-19
Round 6: Snetterton 300: July 1-3
Round 7: Oulton Park: July 15-17
Round 8: Brands Hatch GP: August 5-7
Round 9: Cadwell Park: August 27-29
Round 10: Donington Park: September 9-11
Round 11: Silverstone Arena GP: September 23-25
Round 12: Brands Hatch GP: October 7-9